New beginnings: personal and professional

Well hello there! It’s been some time, as you may (or may not) have noticed.

Either way I’m back, a little wiser and a lot more refreshed, and I’ll be around for a while.

If you’ve been following me on Twitter or via my other business, you’ll know that I’ve been working on a Very Important Personal Project of late:

Baby Translator
Sarah’s Very Important Personal Project

Needless to say, this has been a period of a huge transition in my personal life, with a significant impact on my professional life too.

Transitional periods invariably make us re-examine our priorities. I’ve had to think long and hard about whether blogging is where I want to spend my precious time these days.

But blogging has never been a purely business exercise for me, and I’m keen to have a go at returning to a regular publishing schedule.

I’m curious to see how I’ll re-find my voice and re-negotiate a position for myself in what is now a very crowded space. With so many outstanding translation bloggers nowadays, it feels more intimidating than it ever did.

So I’ve decided to ditch all my expectations and just do what I enjoy most – write, and see what happens.

I’d be very interested to hear from other translators and interpreters: how have you handled transitional periods in your personal life, and specifically the impact they’ve had on your professional life?

**Apologies if you’ve noticed some funny goings-on with my website and blog this week. I’ve moved host and it’s revealed some interesting gremlins in the system**

Book Review: The Prosperous Translator

The Prosperous Translator: Advice from Fire Ant & Worker Bee, compiled and edited by Chris Durban, is simply jam-packed with wisdom. It answers questions on every imaginable scenario under the sun, including many you may recognise but would never dare to admit. It’s not a guide to translation, nor is it a manual on getting up and running in business. What it does offer though, is a realistic, well-balanced view of the profession and the wider industry in which we operate.

The Prosperous Translator
My well-thumbed copy of The Prosperous Translator

The book is based around problems, yet these sticky wickets are transformed into golden opportunities. Challenges are re-framed in a practical and insightful way. Advice usually comes with suggestions of concrete actions or scripts, which apply regardless of language combination, specialism or circumstance. Every path, every option, every scenario is considered with the following in mind: Is this where I want to be as a professional translator? And I kid you not, this mindset alone could change your life. (Or your bottom line, at the very least.)

I got this book late last year with the intention of reviewing it before Christmas, but it was a victim of its own awesomeness. When it came to writing up a review, I needed some serious time and liquid preparation before I could even attempt to do justice to the quantity and quality of information contained within its covers. But enough about me: you’re here for the book.

Continue reading “Book Review: The Prosperous Translator”

When being organised is overrated

My Reference Files

Knowing how to construct a good search query is a key skill these days, and not just when it comes to Google.

A powerful search engine almost negates the need for a classification system in your email inbox or even on your hard drive. Because if you can find and open the precise file you’re looking for in a couple of quick keystrokes, why worry about a carefully nested file structure? I spent years thinking about how best to organise my files and folders until Quicksilver came along. (And there are plenty of other powerful utility applications out there too.)

I was reminded of this a few months ago when I came across a post by Merlin Mann, in which he suggested that people stop obsessing about organising their email and focus instead on whether to trash it or archive it. Simple as that, one of two options: trash or archive. ProfHacker similarly summed it up with the catchphrase “Don’t file. Search.

This approach certainly appeals to the side of me that’s always suspected tidying up was a waste of time. Peel back the layers of social convention, concerns about first impressions and most powerfully of all, what my mother would say, and you’ll find I secretly believe that the floor really is the best place for everything. At least then I always know exactly where to look when I lose something.

Anyone have any other utility software they can recommend?

Photo credit: My Reference Files, Tim Morgan’s photostream on Flickr

Smells like team spirit: establishing a team culture when you work remotely

Team Spirit, December 2006

Lots of practising translators serve on committees, groups or teams, and often work remotely with colleagues. For example, most professional associations are run by volunteer teams and offer many opportunities for translators to work with fellow wordsmiths and get involved in running their institutions at the same time.

As a result, meetings via Skype or Gotomeeting.com are increasingly popular, even among us (traditionally technology-reticent) translators. They save money, travel and time away from work and family, but a downside to this can be a lack of team spirit – one of the benefits of volunteering for a committee role in the first place.

Céline Roque and her readers over at WebWorkerDaily have some great tips on creating a team culture in a teleworking environment. Her post and the follow-up comments are well worth a (re-)read if you find yourself organising meetings remotely. These are my favourite:

  • Don’t hold group meetings for every important decision. Instead, talk to people individually before coming together as a group to summarise or moderate decisions.
  • Give teams the freedom to find and develop their own processes.
  • Encourage team members to work on projects they feel passionate about.
  • Establish one or two communication norms from day one.

This last one in particular strikes a chord with me. A company I once worked at had a strict policy regarding the format of subject lines on all internal email. As a result, it was easy to quickly scan your email inbox, see precisely what kinds of events, actions and information it contained and prioritise accordingly.

This is something I’d like to see more groups and organisations implement. Of course, as per point two above, over-prescribing can be damaging to team spirit in itself and it’s always better to wait and see how things evolve naturally. However it’s usually a given that any group of organisers will generate a deluge of email, which isn’t very helpful when we’re all trying to achieve the holy grail of email zen (email filters can only do so much – believe me, I know).

Finally, information specialist Clare Aitken had some great tips for getting the most out of teleconferencing on a recent guest post at Ramblings of a Remote Worker. She included some tips on establishing communication norms around turn-taking, for example, which can be particularly tricky in a teleconference where we sometimes lack helpful visual clues.

All in all, it’s clear that with a little planning, there’s no reason why working in a remote team can’t be as uniting and as satisfying as working in a face-to-face one.

Photo credit: Team Spirit December 2006, Jiheffe’s photostream on Flickr.

Office design for freelance translators

Savvy translators can operate out of coffee shops these days should they so chose, but fun as that is, there are times when you can’t beat a proper office set-up.

I was reminded of this some time back when reading a Newsweek feature on home offices:

[Neal Zimmerman,] an architect who has written two books on home office design, uses the acronym “CAMP” to describe his home office’s four workstations: computer, administrative, meeting, and project. The way it’s organized, he can make phone calls in one corner and meet with clients in another—and his task chair lets him glide from station to station.

This also fits nicely with Julie Morgenstern‘s approach of organising your office around zones of activity*. So of course it got me thinking about the kinds of zones or workstations I’d like to see in my home office, to enhance my good productivity karma. This is what I came up with: Continue reading “Office design for freelance translators”

Is freelancing freedom a myth?

Freelancing is great – the flexibility, freedom, autonomy and complete control over your own destiny… right?

That’s certainly what I believed when I started freelancing, and I still do to some degree. However I now realise that as freelancers, we only really simply swap one set of constraints for another.

Want to pay your bills? Make a decent living? Build your reputation? Well then you can’t do whatever you want, because there’s a relatively limited number of paths that you can conceivably follow to achieve these things.

You’re likely to swap your demanding boss for even more demanding clients. You may be even more at the mercy of random market forces. And getting things done in the absence of social pressure can be tricky, no matter how badly you want to.

I was reminded of this when I saw Julien Smith address on his blog how difficult it can be to get things done as a freelancer:

We’re like “Yeah, finally I have time to do what matters to ME,” but then we don’t do it because we think the freedom is what allows for progress. It isn’t.

He’s right. Sometimes the very things we find most constraining about our cubicles are the things that enable us to be most productive. Systems, social pressure and a routine that’s unforgiving of failure may just be what keeps us sharp.

Like everything it’s a trade-off. One set of constraints for another. And both bring freedoms too, in their own unique ways. The real question is, which set of constraints can you most easily live with?

Staying safe online: personal safety (Part 2 of 2)

Gearing Up
Photo credit: Gearing Up, NathanNostalgia’s photostream on Flickr

Safety seems to be a big concern for many translators considering building a profile online. Safety in two very different ways: in the sense that your computer and data remains protected, and also in the sense of keeping safe from stalkers and weirdos. There’s no denying that risk is inherent in everything we do – from going into business or delivering a job before we’ve gotten paid, to dialling up online and crossing the road. So how can we manage the risks of online participation in a way that enables us to most benefit from all the internet has to offer?

It seems a lot of people I talk to about this forget that it is their offline behaviours that have the most impact online, rather than the simple fact of just being online. Hopefully these tips will help inform translators on what they can do to feel safe and still participate online.

This is the second of two posts on online safety. Click here for the first one.

Continue reading “Staying safe online: personal safety (Part 2 of 2)”

Time Zone Dementia: How do you handle it?

Juggling time zones is a skill many translators find themselves perfecting these days.

I’m currently in contact with clients and colleagues in GMT + 1, +2, + 10,  -4,  and – 7 (i.e. London, Paris/Berlin, Brisbane, New York, and Los Angeles), although it varies with the projects I’m working on at any given time. Daylight saving time only adds to the fun.

Luckily there are lots of tools around to help me keep on top of things, such as the free FoxClocks, EasyTZ or the indispensable World Clock Meeting Planner. And because I’m old-fashioned at heart, I find old-school works well for me too:

Time zone tracking

But I still suffer from an occasional twinge of what Anne Zelenka over at WebWorkerDaily calls TZD, or Time Zone Dementia. If you’re in the same boat, or just think you could do with some ideas on how to better manage your scheduling, then I recommend checking out her post. It’s an old one, but the principles still hold true.

Any other readers juggling significant time zone differences? Any tips, tricks, tools or ideas?

Getting paid across borders: multi-currency banking for freelance translators

337/365: The Big Money

When it comes to accepting payments from overseas, I’ve learned the hard way that there is no single answer as to what works best. It all depends on a range of factors, such as:

  • the country in which you live
  • the country or countries in which you hold bank accounts
  • the facilities available to you either through your bank(s) or in the country in which you live
  • the country in which your clients are based
  • the currencies in which you will (hopefully) be paid
  • the amount and frequency of payments
  • applicable fees, exchange rates and transfer times

Continue reading “Getting paid across borders: multi-currency banking for freelance translators”

5Qs with Andrew Bell, AAA Scandinavian Translations

After working as a nurse in several countries, Andrew Bell set up AAA Scandinavian Translations in 2001 and now specialises in medical/pharmaceutical translation services. He also runs the popular translator-networking site Watercooler. Here Andrew tells us about how he became a translator, and offers a wealth of advice for new and experienced translators interested in moving into the highly specialised field of medical/ pharmaceutical translations.

Sarah Dillon: You have many years of experience in healthcare, and are in fact a Registered Nurse (RN). How difficult was it to make the conversion to being a medical translator? What preparation did you have to undertake to supplement your existing knowledge, and do you have any tips for aspiring medical translators who might not have this background? [Sorry, I know that’s really 3 questions but I couldn’t resist!] Continue reading “5Qs with Andrew Bell, AAA Scandinavian Translations”